- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Pentagon has established the first of two command centers that will serve as headquarters for U.S. military personnel headed to Iraq to assess the capabilities of the Iraqi army as it attempts to beat back an insurgency mounted by Sunni militants.

Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said Thursday that 50 troops had arrived in Baghdad, bringing the total to 180 out of 300 additional military personnel President Obama ordered to Iraq.

The U.S. troops will also advise the Iraqi army on the best way to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a violent militant group that has ripped through the country with little resistance from the Iraqi military.

The assessment will take place over the course of two or three weeks, Col. Warren told reporters during a Thursday press briefing at the Pentagon.

“They’re really going to focus on … assessing the capabilities of the Iraqi army units in and around Baghdad,” he said. “That’s their initial mission. What do we mean by capabilities? Everything from the status of their equipment to the training and readiness levels of their personnel — even their morale.”

Last week, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby announced that the first wave of troops, consisting of about 90 military advisers, were tasked with setting up the Joint Operations Center with Iraq Security Forces. An additional 40 troops had been assigned to the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq, which was set up to spearhead military aid to Baghdad in terms of manpower and weapons. The tally of U.S. military personnel inside the country has reached 500, Col. Warren said.

“They’re all special forces guys,” he said. “They all have their personal weapons and they are very well trained and are accustomed to operating in these type of environments.”

The Pentagon has tapped a two-star general to run the Joint Operations Center. Maj. Gen. Dana Pittard is now responsible for six teams of U.S. military advisers, Col. Warren said.

The Pentagon has yet to determine when and where to establish the second center.

“The second JOC has not yet become active and it isn’t imminently going to become active,” he said. “We’re going to allow these initial teams to conduct their initial assessments, and then we’ll make a decision on how to move ahead.”

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